19 February 2008

What In the World...Can You Name a Squirrel?

I met Nan in the lobby of the posh hotel headquarters of the Santa Fe Film Festival. We were fast friends, and we spent a lot of time chatting during my comings and goings to festival activities since she spent all day sitting in the lobby watching people's comings and goings. Eventually, she allowed me to film her for the "What in the World..." project. Sadly left on the cutting room floor are her explanation that she was visiting Santa Fe to attend a meeting of the mansion preservation committee, the story of her nickname "The Countess" at one of the restaurants she visits frequently, and her repeated requests that I meet the two young gentlemen who were 'escorting' her. So without further ado...and yes, those are rhinestones decorating her eyelids - she's phenomenal.

11 February 2008

“You Never Know When a Cow Will Catch Air”

Last night, between films, I was sitting having a coffee with Eva, an Amsterdam-based painter, when she taught me the above expression. We were discussing art-making and you never know what the people will take to, or as we say in the States, what will ‘fly’. I guess for the Dutch, it's those few lucky cows. I wonder if they ever bump into pigs up there. Hopefully, more often than not.

Okay, enough about farm animals. More on the festival. The festival was very lovingly curated by Glenn Mitrasing, a Dutch/Nepalese doctor who just loves Himalayan culture and created this film festival 7 years ago, as well as a Himalayan Film Archive which he now stores in two large safe-deposit cubbies in a bank vault. (That's me with him, voiceless but proud, hanging out at the end of the loooong weekend). There was a very enthusiastic crowd and a great mix of films including a film I first loved at Mill Valley, Riding Solo To The Top Of The World. I also really enjoyed Journey of a Red Fridge, and that’s not just cuz we have the same international sales agent. And even though I screwed up and missed Henriette Lavaulx-Vrecourt's A Long Way To Freedom, if it was a spirited and lovely as she is, I'm sure it was great! (Sorry again!) Saturday night boasted a performance by a Dharmasala-based Tibetan rock group JJI Exile Brothers (to be posted on YouTube shortly - I'll keep you posted). And I frequented the momo stand so often, its proprieters exclaimed “Veggie Momo!” whenever I came near.

And once again, to my delight and gratitude, we had a sold-out show of 300 filmgoers, followed by a lively half hour question-and-answer session that only ended in deference to the next screening. Being the European premiere, with my first non-English speaking audience, I had been concerned about the film’s ‘translation’, more specifically how well they would make it through the delicate balance between getting absorbed in the viewing, and furiously reading subtitles in a foreign language (as good as the Dutch are at English, even Americans have a tough go of it). But clearly it went off well, and there were laughs and gasps in their respectively proper places.

Interestingly, there was one audience member who took me aside afterwards to ask if I didn’t suspect that Lama Norlha Rinpoche was only ‘playing to the camera’ a bit in his wish to elevate the status of nuns and grant self-determination. Surely, a Tibetan Lama would never *really* do such a thing, so naturally he must have just been putting on a show for us. And I once again was reminded just how authentic and unprecedented and *radical* a Lama he really is.

And of course, there is another audience member that needs to be mentioned here. At the end of the Q&A, as I was reaching down for my bag, I heard a familiar voice say “I have a question for you…” It was my dear old friend Eric Vansevenant, who had driven up from Antwerp with his girlfriend Nancy for the screening (which he was late for, but who the *@&# cares?!) Eric and I spent two memorable months living in a communal backpacker community in Tel Aviv in the winter of 1987. We met on the ferry from Athens to Haifa. He oozed pseudo-macho bravado, and after four days of cabin fever, putting up with his antics and ego-infused card-playing, I wrote in my journal that I hoped I never saw the jerk again. Fast forward a week, and we were inseparable. Fast forward 20 years, and except for my gaggle of Swedes, he’s the only one from that one-year backpacking expedition with whom I’ve been steadily in touch. Seeing him Saturday, the years melted away – as they always do as soon as I hear his voice – and it was a joyful afternoon. Thanks for answering the signal, Batman (that’s another story). Again, another one of those moments where you just have to figure that the people in your life, that *stay* in your life, are there for a very good reason.

Speaking of which, I’m now sitting in a pub on Earl’s Court Road in London, meters away from my old flat when I was a student here in 1986. It’s my first time back since then, and this is a much more modern a city than it was so many years ago. But at the same time, it’s feeling so familiar already. This is where my own cow first took wing, and it’s good to come back to the pasture.

07 February 2008

It started out in Amsterhmmmmm

This morning, I arrived in Amsterdam to attend the Himalaya Film Festival, which will host the European premiere of DAUGHTERS OF WISDOM on Saturday. Coincidentally (?) today is Losar, Tibetan New Year, and I am reminded that last year on Losar, I was in Missoula, Montana for the ‘sneak preview’ of the film at the Big Sky Documentary film festival. Makes me wonder what next year has in store, because this last one has been a helluva ride.

Amsterdam holds a special place in my life and my filmmaking career. In the fall of 1987 after I graduated from college, Amsterdam was the gateway to my 11 month + 11 day back-packing expedition through Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (an adventure I am now developing into a film project). In the summer of 2000, I was here en route to Samye Ling Monastery in Scotland to shoot a segment of a film I was producing, and it was there that I joined forces with a European Co-Pro
ducer George Weiss who I had met at the Berlin Film Festival a year earlier.

After landing at Schiphol over an hour early (my good travel karma continues – Chicago? Four hour delays each way into O’Hare? A blip, a dream, a cosmic blooper) I got to the Hotel Asterisk, which miraculously had a room ready for me. I spent all day sleeping (which goes against all ‘tactics’ I’ve ever developed for surviving European jet lag, but was the natural course as soon as I saw the pillow in my hotel room). I awoke, showered in the bathroom down the hall (ah, budget European hotels!) walked out into the beautiful, canal-ed streets of this fair city, and within about ten blocks, found myself standing in front of a Nepalese/Tibetan Restaurant. Butter tea and momos for Losar! A stop into a shop for salt licorice and Droste chocolate pastilles, and the evening was complete.

Tomorrow night, I will again see George Weiss, who now runs a humanitarian NGO called RADIO LA BENEVOLENCIJA, and his partner Robin Brinster of ILLUMINA FILMS who as a result of email blasting George when DAUGHTERS premiered last summer, has now become my international sales agent. My dear friend Liz Locke, an incredible woman who has lived in many corners of the U S of A - most of them dusty – once said that she never leaves a place until she knows why she ended up there in the first place. The odd set of circumstances that led me to meet George in Berlin at the start of my film career, and eventually to Robin in Amsterdam who will shortly be making my first international broadcast sales, presents one of those “oh that’s why” moments I am certainly gratefully humbled by.

I heart Amsterdam!